By TOM KRISHER
BROOK PARK, Ohio (AP) â¿¿ Ford is preparing for a day in the near future when a small four-cylinder engine will be the motor of choice in most of its vehicles, perhaps even in pickup trucks.
Demand for the company's 2-Liter turbocharged engine is growing so fast in North America that Ford announced plans Thursday to start building the engine late next year at a factory in Brook Park, Ohio, near Cleveland. Currently it's importing the motors from a factory in Valencia, Spain.
The Brook Park plant now employs about 1,300 people who make V-6 engines for the F-Series pickup truck, the most popular vehicle in America.
Ford plans a $200 million investment in the plant and promises 450 more jobs, the halfway point in a Ford hiring spurt that will total 12,000 U.S. hourly jobs by 2015. But few think that the hiring will stop at 450, as the company and its customers look to smaller "EcoBoost" turbocharged engines to fight high gas prices and comply with more stringent government fuel economy regulations.
Demand for the 2-Liter turbocharged motor has exceeded Ford's expectations, Joe Hinrichs, the company's new president for the Americas, said after making the announcement. "You never know when that's going to go further, because the products it's going to go into are some of our best-selling cars."
Plus, U.S. auto sales are growing. Industry analysts predict about 15.3 million cars and trucks will be sold this year, up 800,000 from last year. It's far higher than in 2009, when frozen credit and high unemployment cut sales to 10.4 million, a three-decade low.
More customers are choosing turbocharged smaller engines as Ford and other manufacturers offer them in more models. The engines get better gas mileage than six-cylinder motors. And the turbochargers give them more power when needed. In the U.S., new vehicles will have to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, twice the roughly 27 mpg they get today.